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From classrooms to communities: SFU Continuing Studies celebrates 50 years

July 05, 2021

On July 5, 1971, bell bottoms were the hottest fashion on campus, Carole King sat atop the music charts, and SFU’s newly minted Division of Continuing Education opened its doors. Now known as SFU Continuing Studies, the department celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a look back at five decades of memorable moments, plus a prize draw to help learners continue their education.

Today, Continuing Studies attracts more than 5,000 learners a year to its flexible career courses, Liberal Arts and 55+ classes, and award-winning programs like the Writer’s Studio and the City Program. But back in 1971, the first continuing education classes were created to help schoolteachers complete their degrees over the summer. Within three years, programming had expanded to include the Program for Senior Citizens, as it was then known, and a lively mix of non-credit evening classes covering everything from veterinary medicine to glassblowing.

“It’s fascinating how much has changed in the past 50 years,” says Julia Denholm, dean of SFU Lifelong Learning (which encompasses Continuing Studies). “Yet in all this time, Continuing Studies has remained true to its original mandate: to expand university access to learners beyond the traditional student.”

Bringing education within reach of our communities has always been a priority, she adds. Long before the advent of online learning, the department brought education into people’s homes through correspondence courses and television programs in the 1970s, and in the 1980s offered classes in B.C. communities like Kamloops and Kitimat, and even an education program for inmates of local prisons.

Over the decades, programming continued to evolve, as the department worked with faculties across SFU and numerous community partners to develop new learning opportunities in areas ranging from business and management to languages and community building.

“We pride ourselves on our ability to respond to the changing needs of our learners and our communities,” says Denholm, “whether that means introducing new programming to meet the demands of the marketplace or offering flexible learning opportunities to fit the busy lives of our students.”

Continuing Studies has experienced a number of intriguing milestones. It made history by naming Canada’s first dean of continuing studies—who went on to become president of SFU—and also by appointing the first woman dean of a Canadian continuing studies unit. Continuing Studies also became known for moving into an old department store, dishing up philosophy in local cafés, and proving that it’s never too late to go back to school. This past year, the department thrived after suddenly moving all courses online, emerging with some of its highest-ever enrollment numbers.

“We’re excited about possibilities for the future,” says Denholm. “We can’t wait to see what the next 50 years bring.”

To celebrate this anniversary, Continuing Studies is offering a monthly draw for a $500 gift certificate to help people meet their learning goals. You can visit the Continuing Studies anniversary website to enter the draw and explore more highlights from the department’s rich history.